How to Throw a Virtual Birthday Party

We were a few weeks into our experience of staying home–and I realized, my son’s birthday was coming fast, and it looked unlikely that we could have the usual birthday party with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents–let alone the sleepover with one of his best friends.

I considered just waiting–having his birthday party a couple weeks late.  That would surely be better than no party at all, right? And yet, something told me, it wasn’t smart to count on even that option; we couldn’t really expect to know anything at even that distance away.

I began to wonder–what about a virtual party? I’d recently begun learning how to operate a classroom online through my own part-time job leading educational seminars in the homeschool community. I’d been spending time how to use the features and play games. Could this be a platform for a birthday party for a kid?

Yes–of course it was easily an option to let people see each other, and to let family see my son blow out candles on his cake and open gifts. But that’s not much of a party. And some people are starving for socialization and connection. Was there more I could do on a platform like Zoom? Could we play games as I do with my students?

But I don’t normally host birthday parties with games. When we do family parties, there’s no need! We just talk and the kids play– no need for entrtainment. (That’s the what the kids are for!) I have a sister who always makes special games with prizes, but I’ve not done that except for my oldest’s five-year-old birthday party when we invited friends. BUT–the occasion seemed to call for doing things I don’t normally do…

My husband was focusing on really treating our son with the gifts–buying him things he really wanted and that we knew could give hours of play as we were stuck home. I guess my thought was similar–doing something a it over the top of our normal.

A specialty of mine in the classroom is adaptations of the game Clue. Could I use this for a birthday party? People guessing the names of person, a weapon and a room a crime takes place in?

What if it’s not murder, but something more fun and funny? Hence came the idea “Who Ate the Birthday Cake?” It was a silly story about my son’s birthday cake being eaten before the party–by a relative in attendance at the party. The task during the party is for all the guests to guess which relative(s) ate the cake, with what utensil, and in what room of our house.

I set up the game, emailed/texted guests what they needed, and shortly after everyone arrived on our Zoom birthday party call, we played. It worked great, it brought laughter, and family said afterward that it was fun and novel. and perhaps most telling, my husband said after that he had been skeptical that it would work, but he was pleasantly surprised that it really did.

At our party, it was my brother who guessed it–pinning the crime on our sister and her one-year-old son! He also correctly guessed that they at the birthday cake with chopsticks in my daughter’s bedroom. These games are funny because they are about the people at the party.

How to Set Up the Game

  1. Make a game card. I typed mine up in columns on Word, a column for people, another for utensils, and a third for rooms of the house. (Note, I use the “Header” feature to make a title and direction that span acorss the page, rather than split it into two columns.)
  2.  You need to choose the people on the game card. I used each guest as a name, but it’s also okay to use people not present; it doesn’t mess up the game. I had a sister-in-law not in attendance, but we had her name in the game anyway. Click below to see the game card.

birthday game clue cake public

3. Next, I had to communicate with the party guests. I sent them emails to let them know of this game and sent them the game card. I didn’t give full instructions; I thought it would be less overwhelming to relatives to wait until we were together online. But I instructed them to print the game card and expect a text.

4. Next I had to add up the items on the game card: each person on the lists, each utensil and each location. I then randomly selected one item from each column–that was the answer to the mystery. the remaining items I had to divide evenly between the guests. (Depending on the number of people nad tiher ease with playing this knd of game, you may want to have each family unit play as one player. I was inviting my siblings and their familes plus two sets of grandparents. So, including my own family, I had 8 teams or “players.” So I divided the itesm up for 8 “players.”) On a game card of my own,  I assigned 4 items to each guest by placing their initials next to the items.

5. I texted each guest team (family unit) earlier in the day and gave them their 4 assigned terms and told them to check them off on their game card.

7. Then I sent everyone a Zoom invite. (Having an account is necessary for a host, but not a guest; you may sign up for free right now, and that gives you 40 minutes. or you could pay for an account that gives unlimited time.)

8. Whenever everyone arrived at the Zoom party and we’d chit-chatted a bit, waiting for the entrie guestlist to arrive, I did the game first. I didn’t know how long it would take, and I wanted ot do it when the kids and adults were fresh.

Here’s our guests on Zoom, first time ever trying such a thing. They all arrived!

9. I explained the basic rules of playing Clue, with some alterations to make it work for our group online.

Alteration #1: When it’s your turn, guess one item fomr each column: people, utensil, location of the crime. the goal is to guess anything not yet checked off because those ones are eliminated, not the answer to the mysery of who ate the birthday boy’s cake.

Alteration #2: When someone makes a guess, the rest of the people should raise their hand if they have any of those words checked off on tiher paper. (Anytihng a player has on tiher game card cannot be the answer to the mystery.)

Alteration #3: HOWEVER, I put one cap on this–to slow the game down–after two people with raised hands have refuted someone’s guess about one item becuase they have it checked off on thier paper, we move ot the next turn. (Otherwise, things can go too fast. The original game limits this by allowing players ot ask only the player to one side of them in the circle; this is my way of achieving the same limit.)

Tip: I run this like a teacher because I am a teacher! i repeat what peope say to help move through confusion or sound or tech difficulties. I call on people for their turn, and I interact with peoples’ guesses with comments. The kids expecially think it is funny when someone accuses a certian uncle or cousin of eating the cake, so I ham it up a bit. I take everyopportunity for the potential for it to be funny and provide laughter. People in this time NEED laughteer. Get the kids to laugh about grammy and baby cousin Nelly eating cake with chopsticks or Pappy eating cake with a baby spoon or a shovel.

Goal: a player guesses each category’s answer all in one turn. (This rarely happens, though it did in our recent fmaliy party. If it dones’t, move ot thel ightning round.

Alteration #4:  Lightening round: when people get fidgety or you see no end in sight, announce that it is the lightning round! Instruct guests that we will each make a final guess on one category at a time. So I then ask each team/player who they think did it, and I don’t say yes or no to anyone’s guess; I hear every player’s guess before I announce if anyone got a point for a correct guess as I reveal who it really was! I repeat with utensils, then with location, untl we know the whole answer. A team wins this way by having the most points, and points wre earned for having any category’s answer correct.


The game succeeded on two counts in our party: there was laughter and we engaged the guests. (Families with young kids couldn’t fully participate–there was jsut one adult playing with the other herded young kids! So consider the make-up of your attendees when choosing this game. It worked for most but not all guests.)


After, we had our son open gifts. (I’d asked relatives to send them ahead.) Cousins were epsecially invested to see what toys our son got. This translates easily to virtual party activities.

Right after gifts, I brought out the cake with lit candles. Ahead of time, I’d sent the invites that said BYOC–bring your own cake! And most guests really did–they had some form of cake to get out so we were all eating cake together–even if not the birthday boy’s cake.

My son blew out his candles and we ate cake, all huddled around the laptop on the coffee table.

Last, I had a game on hand if needed. I planned to use the Zoom shared whiteboard which allows drawing by any participant. However, some relatives were joining by only cell phone and they couldn’t access it. Even the birthday boy wasn’t interested, as he had been earlier, because suddenly his gifts were more interesting! But a couple of the younger cousins did play a simple drawing game with the aim for the family to guess what they were drawing. If it had been more formal, I’d have played it with the theme of drawing things that represent the borthday boy.


Our party took a little over an hour, perhaps? A few family members lignered  bit longer. By all accounts, I think this was very successful, and our son said it was one of his favorite birthdays.




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Taking Back Homeschool Joy–with Crafts (or Surviving Crafts with Variations on a Theme)

Joy. After 7 years of homeschooling, I’ve had years where not all gears clicked; we may have been successful in many areas, but not everything went the way I wanted it to. Last year, I noticed the joy from certain types of ventures was missing…

Last year, I started my mission to bring back joy in our homeschool. (I wrote about that in Ever Feel Like You’re the Least Favorite Teacher In Your Homeschool?) That was about me changing myself and was largely spiritual in nature. Now I’m onto phase two…

I have two, count ’em: TWO crafty kids:


And one of them is not my first-born who, let’s face it, was really the arrowhead of our homeschool and whose preferences have dictated or tempered many choices. I designed every class to fit him first. Then others came along when we already had a groove. And it didn’t include crafts.

I confessed in a post last fall that I’m NOT that Crafty Mom.  Also, being crafty is time-consuming! Guess what this part-time-working homeschooling mom of multiples has had a shortage of??! TIME.

But despite my lack of time and a penchant for crafts, two of my kids still insist that crafting brings them great joy! And if I don’t plan crafts, they cut up egg cartons to make headphones for stuffed animals, make high heels from styrofoam, repurpose anything plastic, and dig through the trash to find what they consider a great arm for a robot or a suitable material for a tutu.

When I was really tired (I once had a physical injury that really lessened my energy for much of a year) or busy, I told myself: “At least I’m providing them time and supplies to create.” Every year, I let them have at least an hour of free, quiet time a day in separate rooms, and they made a lot of stuff. Sometimes with purely their imaginations, sometimes with how-to books. I told myself access and time were really the most important ingredients. I still think that’s true.

But I wanted this year’s schooling to be different in that creative joy was really part of our instructional time together.

I’m not crafty, but I’m creative and artistic. (There is a difference. I think being crafty lies in, perhaps, an ability to see possibilities and be creative as well having the motivation to get all the supplies and pieces ready. I know crafty people who aren’t very artistic– i.e. skilled in the fine arts–but they appreciate creativity and are super organized and can get it together! I’m definitely more artistic than crafty, and I’ve honestly not been the mom to pre-cut colored paper and get little pom-poms for a 1-2-3 gluing activity very often in all my years of parenting.)


                The above represents the one craft I managed to fit in last year….

I’ve not had the time, to be honest. Or the great conviction or interest.

But I knew that if there was one thing I could change to bring joy to two children at once, it was to have a lot of craft time in our school.

But how?

Over the summer, my planning time was focused on how I could get at least two crafts in each week with my younger kids, as part of science or history lessons. I KNEW this planning had to occur over the summer because my school year gets so busy.

But with lack of time, and eventually, energy, how can a mom sustain and manage planning so many crafty activities and not lose steam? And then I hit on something that has been my salvation in this area: variations on a theme.

I can’t reinvent the wheel every week; I don’t have time to search through Pinterest and craft books and go get supplies for new projects on a regular basis. So, I planned two different themes and made a list of variations within each that can give my kids:

  • different materials to work with
  • different experiences
  • new explorations


First, I planned a science unit my daughter requested about seashells. Who knew a $1 clearance book about seashells could be so rich? I hadn’t realized all that her request would teach us about the animal kingdom, mollusk behavior, ocean depths and tides, food-chain relationships among sea and land creatures, and more.

She asked to learn about pretty sea shells, but we’ve been feasting on a dazzling variety of sea creatures that wow us–like scallops with their multiple rows of blue eyes or the way lightning whelks feed, or the source for purple dye of the ancient Romans.


To make crafts to support their learning, the kids are making a big poster of the shells they learned about. For each shell, we make:

1) an index card with its name and a few facts the kids chose and

2) a representation of that shells on another card.

We then tape the two cards together along the top, forming a card hinged at top which I mount on the poster board. This way, you see the picture/representation of the shell and you can lift up the top card to read about it.

The crafting? Shells, each one made differently. Here are some ideas we’ve done or plan to do:

  •  Glue sand across the blank surface of an index card. Draw, color and cut out a shell and paste it on top. Shell on a beach!IMG_5249 Just gluing sand was a novelty. I’d had sand in little baggies from a project from before kids…what a great way to use it.
  • Use air-drying clay to mold shells. When dry, paint them then mount them on a card. 

    Both kids made a spirula–the cream-colored spiral each is holding–which is actually an air chamber from a squid. She also made a pink horn shell. She had fun using tools to make texture on its surface.

    IMG_5360 Two shells in progress of mine, gray clay, on top of the awesome $1 book I found at a second-hand bookstore.


  • Use Sculpey clay to make the variegated, colorful shells. (If you’ve learned how to make polymer clay canes or otherwise braid colors to make designs, that’ll be perfect for making some of the intricate/mottled colored shells)
  • Make 3D shells out of paper items, such as mini cupcake wrappers to make bivalve shells.
    IMG_5365 I had an idea to make a 3D scallop, but this kid had a different idea. I let him run with it, and here is his result: an orange calico scallop. The most fun was making the rows of blue eyes in the middle.


  • Use glitter pens to draw iridescent shells
  • Use glue and sprinkled glitter for other iridescent shells
  • Paint shell-shaped pasta noodlesimg_5250.jpg
  • Use markers for the few very boldly colored shells, such as coquinas. (Getting to use markers is kind of big for my kids because I don’t let them all the time.)
  • Make two layers of a shell and hold them together with brads so viewers can shift the layers and see the inside colors.IMG_5368 We read that pen shells are often overlooked because they are unimpressively brown–but an under layer features pearly pastels 
  • Invent ways, with their input, to show things that attach to shells–barnacles, rocks, other shells and anchors. My kids had fun making the “golden fleece” threads coming out of pen shells (above).
  • Ask your crafty kids for their ideas on how to represent a shape–they have ideas–even if they don’t work at first blush.


I don’t even know all the variations we might do. We’ve been doing this for a month now–three mornings a week for 30-60 minutes each time. If it seems to lose its luster, we’ll pause and go to another unit study–and may come back later.

The variation is key for my kids. It needs to feel like a different project, not the same one all the time. But for me, and my survival, there needs to be something that is the same. I can do variations on this theme to make it what they need AND still be able to maintain it!


My other craft-heavy subject is history. I’m building my study of the middle ages through various books–both fiction and nonfiction. I bought a ton of educational coloring books, starting with one on the Celtic people. My coloring books take us all the way through the Renaissance and cover everything from explorers to monarchs to medical professionals.

We made a large map of Europe on big paper and put it in our kitchen. My thought was to put colored, cut-out people from our coloring books on the big map. For instance, so far my kids have put ancient Celtic peoples in northern Europe and moved them to what’s now Great Britain. They’ve moved Roman soldiers from Italy to England.  Now they’re coloring Anglos and Saxons (varieties of Viking peoples) who will invade the island and take over. We use the cut-out people like paper dolls moving around the map.


I’ve been reading from The Usborne Encyclopedia of History (great, detailed illustrations) and various picture books. While the kids are coloring, I read them myths and literature from the cultures. (My son just read a Beowolf story for another class–fits right in.)

But I have so many educational coloring pages–about 15–owing to a clearance sale of Dover and Bellerophone books at a homeschool supply store.


Bellerophone coloring book

Medieval and Renaissance Fashion: 90 Full-Color Plates

Dover coloring book

My kids like coloring, but not THAT much!

I know I have to have variations on how we use those coloring pages of figures or their excitement will fizzle. My variations on using all those coloring book pages:

  • tracing a figure on parchment paper and coloring with Sharpie markers to look like stained glass
  • tracing an image onto foil with a dull pencil, so all we get are indentations to look like metal working.
  • Using Elmer’s glue to trace over the bold black lines of a figure drawing; when that dries, you can paint the between sections more easily.  And it looks cool!
  • fashioning a figure to become a stand-up paper doll
  • using colored pencils
  • using pen and ink to make intricate designs (great for some Renaissance period armor, particularly Italian–it got rather frilly…)
  • trying pointillism!
  • breaking out metallic colored pencils (again, good for armor…)
  • taking images for the coloring books to make into a mobile using a coat hanger
  • transferring images onto black construction paper by using white chalk rubbed on the underside. (Then sharpen the lines by tracing the smudgy lines that transfer.)
  • using gel pens on black
  • covering a figure with different types of paper, collage style
  • Use a variety of materials of different textures to glue onto figures: sand, sequins, yarn, ribbon, glitter…
  • watercoloring
  • making period-appropriate paint–egg paint–and using that to color the images
  • cutting out select shapes of the image and gluing the cut-up figure to a brightly-colored sheet of paper.
  • free-hand drawing/copying an image

And who knows what else we get into overtime…my kids will surely have their own ideas over time.

My goal is 3 times a week, we should do one or the other of these projects. I have a time slot in the morning that works well for this, and so I use that time for either history or science, whichever one needs the table for the messiness.

I’m not struggling to come up with ideas or finding the time to plan a craft–as I had in the past. Now it’s mostly about just getting out different supplies, which I did, mostly, purchase already over the summer.

So far, in the 4-5 weeks we’ve been doing school, these have been great. My kids seem to be enjoying things this year, and I’m actually enjoying schooling them more this year than any other I can remember…

Other posts:

6 Tips To Revamping the Homeschool Schedule

Why We Stayed with Classical Education and the Classical Conversations Homeschool Community

Why I Continue to Homeschool

Review: Phonics Museum Reading Program

Books My Son Likes: Flora and Ulysses

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6 Tips To Revamping the Homeschool Schedule

Ah, this is the normal point of the year where I normally have gone back to the drawing board to figure out a better daily schedule for homeschooling multiple kids. You too?

Call it scheduling, patterning your day, or simply just trying to fit it all in. It’s a challenge.

A homeschool parent isn’t just trying to fit in the school work. We’ve got to balance that with chores and the spacing of breaks different kids need for optimal attention. You’ve gotta figure out, who is the best one to have unload the dishwasher or clean the table surface in time for that craft and why–based on their school work and best times of the day for optimal learning. And you know you can’t schedule certain subjects for the same kid back-to-back, etc.


Arranging your days for your own 3 kids is not necessarily easier than scheduling 90 kids–3 sections of middle school kids through their days/weeks of classes. It might be 3 kids I’m managing, but each of those 3 kids functions, scheduling wise, like a whole section or class of kids in a grade.


You’ve got to figure out space for them too: a fifth grader can’t be in the living room using the TV for documentary if the living room is needed for another student who needs silence because the kitchen is too loud. And you can’t have the piano in the living room being used when you the living room is also the only place to have a reading lesson.

You’re juggling not just time, but also

  • room spaces
  • quiet times versus noisy times
  • kids’ differing attention spans
  • learning needs
  • time frames within which certain household chores need to be done
  • available table surface space
  • your own availability
  • your brain power to shift abruptly from, say, leisurely read-alouds or kindergarten phonics to algebra
  • complications of needing to combine certain students for certain subjects but not others (like when you need two different sections of middle school math to somehow get to history class together at the same time…)
  • and some days, emotional crises

Hats off, you homeschooling parents of multiples–you are being groomed into great jugglers and schedulers!


Last year I wrote Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule. Some of those tips are still working for me. Such as, not starting my day with the kid and subject that is the most challenging; I start with something pleasant to ease into it! (Be kind to yourself!) But other new things came up this year for which I didn’t really have experience or tips…

For the most part, things have been working well.

Really well...

I went into this year the same way as some other years: feeling a bit panicked or stressed, KNOWING that what was required of me the coming year was more than has ever been expected of me. Not only have my children gotten older since I started this gig with just one little five year old who needed 1.5 hours of my time to teach him kindergarten….but we’ve had some curve balls.

One child’s different learning needs not only required more time of me last year WITH him, but they also required that I learn an entirely new and demanding curriculum–in my free time. I had to relearn how to teach everything for a child who does not learn like I do. That was demanding and time-consuming. (Worth it though!)


Things like that are challenging to accommodate as, sometimes, year to year, the ante just keeps upping. Every summer, I feel God pruning me and letting me know, the challenge is on me to become more efficient. I spend all summer wondering how…and asking, Am I up to the challenge? I fill notebook pages with ideas and plans to see the best way to use my time.

Then the next summer, I mostly feel like I survived/made it, and then realize the next challenge is the same one: I have to become even more efficient.

A friend of mine once explained adulting as this progression: whether at work outside the home or as a person taking care of the family home, the charge is to grow more and more efficient each year, accomplishing more in the same amount of time. I had never thought of life in this way, but I’ve certainly found it to be true in homeschooling.

That’s something no one tells you–ha ha! Yes, homeschooling is very easy when you have one kid and he is age five!

ELi first day school 001

But last year, year seven for me, my husband looked at my pantry-cupboard schedule with its color-coding and exclaimed, “It’s like you do this all day!” Yep. Precisely. This is my job.

Below is my schedule which I hang on my pantry door. This is for our days home. One day a week, they have classes with other kids. Three days we’re home on a regular basis. One day, we’re gone half the day, so we have a half-day of school at home.

Every square in my column had a certain color. My square’s color matches the color of the kid(s) learning with me in that time slot. I did that so I could always, at a glance, just SEE who was with me every block.



When something works, you must find out why, so you can duplicate it!

I think a few things are going for us in the above plan:

  1. Margin. This has been touted in the frequently-referenced Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie and other homeschooling and life-coaching resources I’ve read over the years.I once (or maybe multiple years…) tried to schedule everything down to the 15 minute increment. But how many parents can attest to the fact that a single ill-timed visit to the bathroom for one kid can throw off a schedule you cannot aright for hours!!?Multiple times above, I’ve schedule 40 minutes, knowing that a good 30 minutes is sufficient. That has helped us have a little breathing room.

    Our day can handle when your one-on-one class is disrupted by a bowel movement, or a spill in the kitchen, phone call, boo-boo, or printer problem! (You know–a zillion things that can interrupt–and do–frequently)

    You’ve gotta plan for things to take longer than you expect–or you’ll go crazy feeling frustrated and like a failure all day long.

  2. Joy.  I put some things in the schedule that I  know brings each kid joy.  That was my intentional goal as I planned this year. I think this deserves the most credit to our days working, being pleasurable, and truly the most enjoyable homeschool year so far. (I talk about this in Taking Back Homeschool Joy–with Crafts (or Surviving Crafts with Variations on a Theme).
  3. Find a way to start on time every day! I accomplish this with CNN News. I decided I need to start at the same time every day, even if I’m behind on breakfast.So now I give my oldest the responsibility to set up the laptop on the table and cue up CNN10, a school-age 10-minute news program a friend recommended. It’s his job to do that at 8:15. So whether or not the kids are eating while watching it, it is getting watched, and they’re all at the table accomplishing something at 8:15!

    That can be stable, even if other things are variable. I do wish I got to watch the entirety of it, and not from across the kitchen, but oh well, I can’t have everything working perfectly, can I? But so far, this getting everything going at 8:15, aided by this new feature, has really helped our mornings (and fulfilled another goal to get the older ones aware more of current events in a kid-friendly way).

  4. Prayer priority. It’s just 5 minutes. I send each kid to a different room to pray alone after we do Bible study. But wow, has this been worth way more than the time I give it.

    I started it because I felt convicted last spring that though I told my kids that alone-time prayer was important, I gave no time for it. I can say and have said, “pray by yourself when you’r in bed,” but I don’t know how often that may have happened.
    One of the most influential  things I learned from a professor while getting my teaching license: whatever you say you prioritize for your students to do/learn, if you give it no time in class, they won’t believe it’s really a priority–and it’s most likely not going to get done. So I decided, if in life I really want to teach them that praying to God on their own is important, the way WE spend our time should reflect that.

    AND, I found an additional bonus: that five minutes helps me regroup and recenter. I find breakfast to be a little stressful (because, yes, I often start late and feel rushed; that is MY issue, coming from getting up early to accomplish other things before breakfast…), plus the Bible study we do right after.

    It’s challenging to have discussion while telling two different children how to spell things as they take thirty-three years to answer one question, and the oldest is pages ahead and impatient for us to get to the next thing! So after this, I need five minutes where everyone goes to a separate room, and I’m alone (for perhaps the only time that day until 10 PM!).

    Alone, I can zone back in with God if I’ve been losing patience or my mind;  I can remember my purpose and what my goals are in this parenting gig. I thank God for those few minutes i give him space where He can remind me what I need to know, now that I’ve had a taste of my day and which kid is moody, defiant, whiny, needy, pouty, etc….)


  5. Decision: a time limit is a break, not a DEADLINE! Remember that Bible study workbook mentioned above? It was seriously so stressful last year. I do it because it’s a great program, meeting once a week, with great classes for each kid. With the benefit that all of us, in our own classes, study the same material.

    BUT it’s hard to get through in the time I have to give it in the morning. So I just decided, we won’t finish each day’s assigned work by 8:55. It’s ok. If we don’t finish, we’ll get them back out after supper to finish then. No point in stressing the beginning of our day and talking through clenched teeth about important spiritual principals!

    I’m trying to adopt this in general. I have my time filled. When kids were younger, I could say, the schedule is loosey-goosey, and if we were into something, we could just ride the wave as long as the riding was good… But now, if we get really into a history lesson and craft and decide to skip the next thing, it’s not so easy to recover.

    Because. I. Have. No. Extra. Time.

    So my goals need to change. I can spend only so much time on any one thing with any one kid. I can fudge things a little, but in general, I need to not be focused on completing a page or some arbitrary end mark of a chapter or number of problems. We can come back to it another time…


  6. Fewer combos. It became abundantly clear that my oldest was in such a different stage of learning last year that doing anything with all 3 of them was very difficult.

    Last year, I made some adjustments that helped (such as giving him leaderships roles to teach some part of the lesson to the youngest, or sending him to the computer to research something and come back to explain it to the other two, etc.)

    But now, other than Bible study, all 3 don’t do anything together this year, and it’s been amazing! I actually have more engaged, joyful students all around! Everybody likes this new approach better.

  7. Last, I gave my oldest more independence. Let me explain….


It might seem weird that child #1′ s column in my daily schedule is so nondescript! This is new this year: I GAVE HIS SCHEDULE OVER TO HIM! I told him when I have time in my schedule to meet with him–whether to help explain something he’s not getting, to introduce a new concept in any subject, or read over an essay draft–whatever; my time with him can change every day in its nature.


The rest, he got to schedule. He is learning to be the master of his own time.

He has 7 subjects, two which takes about 15 minutes a day, and the rest he should spend 45 minutes to an hour on. I also let him know blocks of the day where I am not using the computer for the younger kids, so those are optimal times for him to do subjects such as math, for which he watches online demonstrations of concepts, and for his research science class’ weekly research reports.

And I let him decide when to do which subjects within the above framework. He plans out his assignments on his own schedule pages each week. (I don’t even need that on my wall!)

This represents a great shift for us. He’s in a program called Challenge A with Classical Conversations where he meets with classmates once a week for a seminars covering six subjects.

One month into the program, I love how my son is wrestling with, and conquering, bit by bit, the challenge laid before him to manage his time. He’s not perfect. I won’t say he’s not forgotten to write something in his planner…or an assignment…or an entire subject until I checked on him… THIS is the work of this class, this year; it’s designed as the year for kids to learn to take ownership of their education.

This is a stated goal as much a priority, if not more, than the subjects themselves. Scheduling is his work; time management is his work–just like it is mine.


Writing this made me realize again how very complex a system it is to homeschool multiple children. Most people probably have no idea what we teaching parents have to figure out, from year to year, to accomplish this mission.

Way to go, you homeschoooler! Whether you’re acing this or still trying to figure it out, take comfort and encouragement in the fact that this is a very difficult/complex task laid before you: figuring out how to juggle/balance/schedule it all is no joke and not for the feint of heart.

You’re amazing. You’re always growing. You’re growing your brain’s capacity to handle logic!




8 Reasons Why I Started Homeschooling

Why We Stayed with Classical Education and the Classical Conversations Homeschool Community

Taking Back Homeschool Joy–with Crafts (or Surviving Crafts with Variations on a Theme)

Ever Feel Like You’re the Least Favorite Teacher In Your Homeschool?

Books My Son Likes: Flora and Ulysses




Posted in homeschooling, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Knoebels with 3 Kids and $100?

A few years back, I wrote about 12 Mom Reasons Why Knoebels is the Best Amusement Park. An interesting point made by some readers: the idyllic scene I’d painted of a family enjoying the day together (without hand-stamps), content to spent a relaxed day at an amusement park, made sense with the ages of kids I had: all under 10 and basically at the same stage of desires about amusement parks. (Though my oldest had outgrown kiddie rides and so things had already started changing for us). This left me wondering: Would the things I preferred about Knoebels still be true when my kids were older? The seed was planted.

Well, it’s three years now since I wrote that post. And last summer, we didn’t even go to Knoebels at all, since we had season passes to Hershey, as part of a Christmas gift.

But this past week, we finally got to Knoebels again, but this time with 2 preteens literally too large in stature to even be allowed on kiddie rides, and a girl whose height of 48 inches meant she could just barely get her last ride on many kiddie amusements as well as begin riding many of the larger rides.

So the question loomed as I started the drive with my 3 kids: Would we enjoy Knoebles now as much as we did in the past? And was it possible to still do it on low budget, not purchasing hand stamps?

Many things have changed about Knoebels since I wrote my original post. Now the price of a book of tickets worth $20 is $18.20. But if you buy vouchers ahead of time at Weis’ grocery store, you can get the $20 book of stamps for $16. I did that latter option and saved $12 on the three books of stamps I bought. S0, I planned to attempt spending only $48 on rides with tickets worth $60.

Other things went up in price, most notably our favorite ice cream stand. Long gone was the $5.75 banana boat that three of us shared… Now a banana split starts at $7, and the price goes up for customization.

But back to the kids….

I’m all about setting expectations. It’s my philosophy for a successful classroom experience when I teach classes of others peoples’ kids, and it’s my philosophy for family outings and vacations, because nothing ruins an experience more efficiently than unmet expectations.

My kids had experienced Knoebels with unlimited rides via hand stamps purchased by Mamie and Pop Pop in the past, so now they knew the other side… They knew such a thing was possible. And they knew we were not going to have that kind of experience this trip.

I explained to them how many tickets each would get to spend however he/she wanted. We talked about seeing how much their favorite rides were and budgeting accordingly. I explained how we were going to go at a leisurely pace and enjoy things–not mad rush to get on as many rides as possible and do each coaster 3 times in a row!

I remember years ago when my oldest really enjoyed just such a trip; he truly loved taking turns and just watching his sister enjoy a kiddie ride until we could walk to other parts of the park for his preferences. This is the picture, below.


I treasure this one. Because I know what he’s looking at: his three-year-old sister riding the firetruck carousel. He loved her and could take joy in her joy.

THIS. This is the image I think of when I think of going to Knoebels and why I love it. And others warned me, this was not likely to continue. Kids get older. They become preteens and teens.

And believe me, I’ve since then seen less than cooperative attitudes from my boys at amusement parks. I could tell you some stories about going to Hershey with them last year.

So yes, I actually WONDERED if we could enjoy a low-budget trip to Knoebels. Could we enjoy a day and spend less than $100?

Here’s what was the same/successful:

  1. We STILL enjoyed some free entertainments. My 6-year-old begged to see the story time and planned to act in it. Though she changed her mind about acting, we still watched the show. She says she’ll act in it next time!We tried a show with an illusionist for middle kid who loves magic shows. I WISH I’d have snapped a picture of his jaw hanging to the floor after the magician “found” a kid’s  $20 bill inserted into the fleshy sections of an uncut lemon.
    I have to say, go see the Magic Walkers ( in the Roaring Springs Saloon. I’ve not seen any illusionist that original or captivating, and that’s compared to ones we’ve seen on tv and a show we attended last year of some magicians touring just after their highly-touted Las Vegas tenure.  My son was not impressed at the former, but this little non-flashy Knoebels illusionist wowed him more than anything he’s seen.
  2. We spent only $40 on food all day–which is a minor miracle for amusement parks for 4 people. (Though we could have gone even cheaper, if I’d needed to.) We brought a packed lunch (totally permissible and supported by places to eat that lunch). I bought everyone their coveted perogies for a meal side dish and split some meals at the Mexican counter in the International food court. I bought everyone one snack/treat. Naomi wanted ice cream “as big as her head,” as Eli got at the Olde Mill Ice Cream shop two years ago.IMG_4883I told the kids beforehand that if they wanted more snacks, I’d bring some, but they could also use their allowance money to buy their own. A couple choose to do the latter. (We’re trying to give the kids opportunities to spend or save money so they can practice weighing decisions.)
  3. Most importantly, could we spend only the $60 value in tickets for rides and would the kids still think it was fun with that limit?It did start with a little impatience because we had to wait and walk quite a bit to hit different kids’ favorites. They weren’t going to waste their tickets on rides a sibling chose unless it was really something they wanted to do/spend their tickets on, so they really were just waiting sometimes during rides.
    I didn’t let the older ones run of to do their own thing: 1) that means you burn through tickets/money twice as fast. and 2) that’s not a family outing. there’ a time and place for letting them do their own thing, but that time was not this trip.

    But as we worked through the day, peppered with food breaks, time at the playground, climbing on the old steam engine, and two entertainments, this became a non-issue. I put a hard deadline on leaving by 8 PM at the latest, and suddenly, we wondered if we could even burn through our tickets before time ran out! (We had arrived at noon, an hour later than the park opens, and we stayed until 8.)

    Our day ended with the kids helping each other! The youngest was out of tickets but her oldest brother really, really wanted to take her on a roller coaster.
    So he’d saved enough of his tickets to cover them both. He also saved enough to take her on a second roller coaster, but she didn’t want to do that.  The other boy gave a sibling tickets to make up for lack of having the full fare. And one boy bought the other an ice cream cone. And all of this was not coaxed or coached!

    As we drove home, I thanked them for being amazing and enjoyable to spend the day with. They had been so cooperative, pleasant, etc.

    I wish I had a picture too of them riding the tilt-whirl, one of the few rides they all took together. But the ride moves so fast, their little carriage spinning them out of view as soon as I get ready to snap…. But I loved the look of their laughing faces as the momentum and centrifugal force of the ride slammed them one way and another into each other. I stood in the gloaming of that pine tree-laced, pebble walkway park and brimmed over with joy. Kids who love each other? Priceless. Oh, they certainly pick on each other and have their days of being awful to each other. But you put them in situations like this, their affection comes out and they work together for mutual fun, on the Tilt-o-Whirl and the Flume ride, splashing down a waterfall with their mouths as wide open as their eyes are shut.

    So here’s to one more year of Knoebels Amusement Park magic.

And yes we did it on less than $100. We spent $84 of parent money to be exact (plus gas money).

Here are some pictures of girlie’s last-ever turns on these kiddie rides. She can’t fit her knees in!







Other posts:

Hershey vs. Knoebels

Being a Good Sport Parent

Books My Son Likes: Wonder

8 Reasons Why I Started Homeschooling


Posted in life with kids | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Women’s Friendships: The One Word That Makes All the Difference

An observation made by my college friends and I: how much more difficult it is to make good, close friends after college. As we maintained our long-distance friendships across states as we all spread out after graduation, we tried to also find new social circles in whatever new places we’d landed.

Maybe my experience is typical. Maybe it’s not. Maybe the fact that I moved every year or two through my 20s, from one state to another (from the Northeast, to Midwest to the South and back to the Northeast) explains why I was half-starved for local friendships before I hit 30.

That may explain why one, simple word held such power. Brought tears to my eyes. I think it was in a text. Someone called me “friend.” A girl I’d been hanging out with and getting to know called me, “friend,” as in the appositive form, grammatically speaking. Such as, “What are you doing today, friend.”

Just to see/hear someone use that word and apply it to me was so powerful after years of never really knowing if I was accepted, let alone valued, by anyone in the new places we’d landed.


I’d talked to my best friends from college long-distance, noting how in college, you could form a really deep friendship in one college semester that could change your life, and yet, in the adult world, you could go to church with someone for years and still feel you knew very little of them. The two-year mark seemed to hold true though; for like-minded people with whom I had things in common, it seemed to take two years to get to any level of depth. I made one such friend in Ohio. Sandy. Then we moved.

But now that I’ve spent over a decade in the same town (gasp!), I’ve had a lot more opportunity for watching how friendships grow and deepen when given time. And I’m impressed by this one type of friend, this one type of person of whom I’ve met few of in my entire lifetime. I’ve been trying to pinpoint what it is about these few friends that makes them stand out.

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And I think I’ve nailed it down to one little word. But it represents a whole lot more than the use of a single word. I’ve met three people in this town who did the equivalent of naming me “friend” out loud (or in written word) in conversation. They may not have used the same exact word but they did the same thing. At a point in our developing acquaintance, they named me as their friend, as someone they valued. Again, this may seem so very simple–hardly noteworthy. But in my experience, it was rare. Rare to meet someone of such warmth and genuine affection who expressed how they saw me in relation to themselves when we were just getting to know each other .

Call my 20-something self insecure, call me battle-weary after moving so much and having to start forging a new life every year or two, call me skeptical of finding real friends as  a consequence of living in some places and situations where people were out for themselves and made “friends” with people only so far as it benefited themselves. However it can be explained, the way some precious people had of so simply showing affection for me left a deep impression.

I’ve made other very good friends besides these three girls, but in those other friendships, it took more years for me to know/feel secure in the friendship as a mutually desired arrangement that went beyond the fact that we worked together, worshiped together or took our kids to do things together. So I’m not talking about quality of friendship here, but the genuineness, the assertiveness (some would say risk-taking) for someone to give me assurance that the new, developing friendship is mutually desired. That kind of transparency–it has me in awe. And that kind of affirmation lifts me up.

These three women have taught me a lot over the years. Their warmth is something I want to emulate. Using a word to name a new friend as “friend” carries a lot of power. It goes against everything our world tells us: to be cool, to appear as if you need nothing from anyone, to be self-sufficient, and not express desires/need for friendship.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up going through educational institutions where everything was about a pecking order, and you spent so much time never really knowing who your friends really were and what they liked you for and if it was really for you being you… After such social training, it’s beyond refreshing to meet people who don’t leave you guessing, who just proclaim you, “friend.”

When I grow up, I want to be like my friends who do this. With obvious words. I’m trying to be intentional about this, knowing how transformative it was for me.

How about you? Who stood out to you in your life as the most welcoming or friendly? Do you notice a common tendency or behavior pattern in them all?

Other posts:

8 Reasons Why I Started Homeschooling

Hershey vs. Knoebels

Being a Good Sport Parent

Writing a Novel in 9 minutes a Day? Is that Possible?






Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Why We Stayed with Classical Education and the Classical Conversations Homeschool Community

The reasons we started attending a Classical Conversations homeschool group sometimes make me want to laugh because our joining seems almost haphazard and accidental!  (I wrote about hwy we joined in Why We Chose the Classical Conversations Homeschool Community.) But the reasons we decided to stay in this community weave an entirely different story.

We stayed for benefits I didn’t even know existed when I was making the decision to join the first year for social reasons.

Deciding to homeschool and deciding to be part of Classical Conversations are two entirely different considerations; why we continued with either contains two separate stories that do converge at points. Homeschoolers do not have to join any group or co-op, but it was something I knew I wanted for my kids from the out-set. I didn’t know I wanted Classical Conversations to be that group specifically. I was content to try it for a year and see, moving to another option if necessary.

But things have a way of rooting you in ways you don’t expect. Here are a number of things that made us connect and want to stay:

  • Grace in class. I remember, very clearly, a specific tutor in our community and how she treated my second child, who was four years old our first year. It was his first experience of a classroom. Even with the active and varied methods of CC tutoring for memory work and the science and art, my son found it challenging to have expectations of any kind rather than free play. boys in overalls  And yet, what I recall is the grace. The grace given to my son when he didn’t want to do his presentation (think Show and Tell). Grace given him when he shook his head no when asked to help hold up cards or pictures for memory work. Grace given to him when he didn’t want to take a turn in a game. He was not relegated to a second-class pupil because he was shy. He was not regarded as a trouble maker or unintelligent or a problem. He was loved patiently and for who he was and where he was in his development.fairy 18
  • While social connection was my priority goal in joining any group, I definitely stayed because my Classical Conversations community not only gave my children mere interaction, it happened to deliver great friends for my kids. My younger son, mentioned above, was so shy and reticent. I will never forget the day a little girl in his class sidled up beside him and held his hand. I even have a photo of this in the community’s year book. And since that day, most things were right in my son’s world. That friendship strengthened him, made him smile and gave him something to look forward to each week. Both boys wanted, without question, to return the next year to reconnect.
  • The fun. Classes were done in ways I’d never seen or before imagined. A classical system wasn’t something I was familiar with. But I very much valued instruction that included different learning styles. I saw my children’s tutors deftly and creatively engaging the students with visual, aural, and hands-on techniques, alternating between learning styles all morning. I loved the sheer variety and the movement. Kids need to be moving and using their bodies, and I loved that this curriculum not only allowed but encouraged such methods. I couldn’t have gotten on board with a program where I sent my kids to a classroom to sit and fill out worksheets.


  • It works for my family. Now we’ve got three children in our homeschool. And my daughter has enjoyed and benefited from the program as well. She is very different than her brothers, and yet the program works for her too. Also, the program is so family-friendly because it’s designed that all students through approximately 6th grade have the same topics as each other each week, though classes of different ages may approach it in a way appropriate to development/age. At home, we can work on memory work together, delve into the history by reading books together, etc.
  • It supports my goal to integrate faith with learning. I love that I can give my kids an education that doesn’t try to (or have to) compartmentalize topics from one another. Like I can integrate history and science in their lessons, finding that they converge to an intertwined entity in the story of humanity, we can explore faith and ethics all the time, no matter what we’re learning. Especially in the upper levels of CC, where classes are discussion-based, this supports and encourages students to think about all of learning through the lens of God and his work and kingdom.
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  • Focus on communication and public speaking. I think this skill is the most valuable a person can acquire, and I love the classical model’s focus on and development of that, and CC’s specific practice of kids presenting something every week. I recall being shy and terrified of presenting once a year in middle school. My kids don’t know that fear. They can stand in front of a room and show you their favorite toy, instruct you on how to draw a character, demonstrate how to fold an origami figure or tell a story. They get practice 24 times a year.
  • The flexibility. Because my entire impetus to homeschool revolved around my concern that the school system demands too much of young children, especially boys, in considering their pattern and pace of brain development of the language centers, I absolutely required a homeschool group that would not punish my boys for my conviction to not make my homeschool mirror public school expectations in reading. CC delivered that beautifully.

When speaking of flexibility, I also mean that I still had autonomy as teacher over the great majority of my kids’ schooling. Going to CC was all benefit–it gave my kids an art class, science class presentation practice, and 7 new items of memory work. But it did not exact homework on us or make all curriculum decisions for us. I as free to work on the memory work as much or as little as I wanted; CC tutors give not tests; they introduce information and the rest is up to parents.

  • ELi first day school 001Because it leaves reading and math instruction to the parents entirely on the other days of the week, my boys’ reading level never became an issue. And also, we found many other like-minded families who also didn’t follow that pace we were avoiding. My boys were both reading at an age later than schools would permit without intervention and worry, by my design. And CC gave me the flexibility to continue with my convictions rather than make me fight for them or cause my boys discomfort for not be able to participate with age mates.


  • The fruit. This took months and years to recognize. We kept returning for the previous reasons, but we continued continuing once I saw the fruit of the classical method I had not at all understood when I joined the program. When my oldest was in third grade, his third year in the program, he announced that he wanted to try for Memory Master. That title means a child has shown mastery (not perfection) in memorizing 24-weeks’ worth of memory work across 7 subjects.                                                                                                                                                                                             I hadn’t considered he’d want to do at such a young age. But it was an amazing experience. I remember when he accomplished it, he said, with awe, “I know how to learn anything now!” He had figured out what method and practices helped him retain information and he had learned how to study. It was an amazingly powerful experience for an eight-year-old.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I would never have asked my young child to embark on such a rigorous discipline. But he was motivated. He valued it. He had had three years of tutors (and his mom) pouring into him and showing him ways to learn. Now, to be clear, I’d never driven the memory work hard at home, but along the way, my son had experienced how much of the content he did soak up from year to year, and it encouraged him that he was capable of mastering an entire year’s worth.THAT is some valuable fruit.
  • The writing. Through third grade, my kids attended what is called the “Foundations” level. That was a morning program. Once a child hits age 9, they can join the afternoon offering called “Essentials” as well. This program taught English grammar and sentence-level skills, writing (paragraph and essay-level skills) and gave a break between those segments to practice mental math through games.                                                                                                                                                                    Because my oldest did read later than many age-peers, we didn’t get around to writing instruction much by the time he finished third grade. At that point, asking him to write a single sentence about something he liked was a struggle. I was very concerned whether or not the program was 1) up to snuff for my ideals as a licensed English teacher who wrote her master’s thesis on writing instruction and 2) that my son was ready. So, I took him to visit near the end of the year when he was eight, to see what class was like. I was pleasantly surprised that he found it so fun, he wanted to join right then.The next year, it quickly proved to be his favorite class of the day. He went from barely being able to write a sentence (and with an attitude like that of Oscar the Grouch) to a child who wrote a 6-paragraph essay about the development of the legend of King Arthur, which he presented as part of the Faces of History Project which our community does every year.

         Here he is reading his report on Michelangelo to the rest of the Essentials                      classes, dressed as Michelangelo, to the best of our ability.

    He soaked up everything given in that class, enjoyed it, and wanted more. The fun and social aspects of the class which often found him giggling succeeded so well, on top of the solid curriculum used, and I knew I’d return for his next two years of the program.


  • The flexibility of the Challenge Program. When I joined the Foundations, then Essentials program for my elementary kids, I didn’t even consider whether or not I’d commit to the challenge program, which is for kids ages 12 and older. When my son was still three years from it, I was asked to direct and tutor a challenge program—and I had no idea what to say because I didn’t know much about it! I had a lot of misconceptions!
  • IMG_1764                                                        But fast forward to now and I’ve lead challenge A for two academic years, heading into my third, with my son in the class. A big appeal to me is the flexibility. I like accountability, or maybe, rather, I like things that motivate my kids with positive peer-pressure or a stake in a project. Knowing they will present or show someone other than just mom gets more engagement. He will put more time in it.                    IMG_1425 The Challenge program sets up ways for students to share, discuss and present that I’m looking for, but I still have the flexibility not inherent in other co-op classes. I get to choose the standard that he must meet; I get to choose our priorities in his education over-all as well as within each subject. Students in the program get a big syllabus for the year inside what’s called the Challenge A Guide. There are assignments listed for each week, as well as alternative ideas given to scale back or scale up.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  A family can join the program and engage at multiple levels, all of which allow the child to still participate and benefit from the community day together.

For all the above reasons, we’re STILL involved in CC. There is nothing else in our family life that has been as stable–that we’re still involved in after 6 years!

Other posts about homeschooling:

8 Reasons Why I Started Homeschooling

Why I Continue to Homeschool

Why We Chose the Classical Conversations Homeschool Community

Books My Son Likes: Wonder






Posted in homeschooling | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Why I Chose the Classical Conversations Homeschool Community for My Little Boys


Why do people choose Classical Conversations—at the overwhelming rate at which they have? (125,000 students!) I can’t answer the whole of that question, but I can for my small family. The reason I chose it for my kids is almost kind of silly and too simple.

What draws some people doesn’t matter one iota to the next person who also chose Classical Conversations (CC). I find the stories of others fascinating for their differences and variety.

For us, the fact that we would homeschool was not even on the horizon when I was a mother with two young boys. But even back then, when I wasn’t even considering it, I began hearing about CC.

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When my boys were both under the age of three, I went to a Christmas party with an old high school friend. While there, I met a woman who mentioned that she homeschooled, told me the name of CC, but all I came away knowing about it was that it existed and that her daughter could sing a song about Charlemagne.

But shortly thereafter, one of my best friends in childhood mentioned that in the state she’d moved to, many people at her church homeschooled using CC. Again, I just heard the name, but really nothing about it, other than its popularity. This kind of exposure to the name happened two or three more time in my kids’ preschool years. (And I know, from the land of marketing, that just the repetition of the name is an effective strategy in sales!)

But in all this time, I was not considering homeschooling, and I was pro-school, to a degree, because I was a licensed teacher myself. (And to the degree to which I had reservations about schools was also because I was a licensed teacher…)


When my district discontinued half-day kindergarten and went to only all-day K, I began considering homeschool. (That was the start, but there were 8 Reasons Why I Started Homeschooling.) When I started homeschooling my son for kindergarten, the many-times-mentioned CC group came to mind.

I started homeschooling when I was pregnant with another baby, and in November of that fall, I contacted my local CC group to arrange a visit. I was doing kindergarten at home and without a group for community because my baby was due around Christmas. I had every intention of just staying home and taking the kindergarten year slow and easy.

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But I  knew I wanted to join a group for my son’s first grade year because I believed strongly that we needed community—my son needed friends and I too needed to be around like-minded parents, for accountability and encouragement. Parenting babies and toddlers was such a solitary life as it was; I lived for bi-monthly meetings of moms’ groups!

So, when I took my five-year-old boy to a CC campus to visit for a day, I went because I was looking for community. I knew other parents found value in the classes. I knew parents had full control of the literacy and math programs; what the CC program offered was foundational and yet also supplemental, and my chosen curriculum for/pace of reading instruction couldn’t conflict with the CC classes for my little guy. (This was extremely paramount for me; a co-op or group that did not feature that parental autonomy would have presented a deal-breaker for me.)

boys in overalls

Did I know what Classical model offered? No. Did I know what “classical” meant as an educational philosophy? No, except for a vague idea that it was derived somehow from ancient Rome and Greece.

It may seem odd that a licensed educator with a master’s degree in education would 1) not know what the classical model was (no—not surprising because modern education doesn’t value that model) or 2) consider a program without investigating its philosophy. I am partially surprised myself, in retrospect. However, my thought process at the time was: this is merely one morning a week, and its philosophy doesn’t have to match what I do at home the rest of the week as long as it doesn’t conflict and it fills the need for which I am searching: social connection.

If my eldest son felt comfortable when we visited the local CC campus and wanted to go, then we’d join. If not, I’d planned visit other local co-ops in the area. Simple.

Well, to my surprise, when my son walked into a classroom of eight children and found two friends he knew from somewhere else, his comfort level was instantly established. As he engaged in the activities of the day (which I recall quite clearly involved dissecting an owl pellet and excavating tiny shrew bones, which he had to take home in a little baggie), his desire to return was secure.

We enrolled in Classical Conversations for the following year.

We arrived at CC because of repeated word of mouth exposure and because the community was warm, welcoming and appealing to my son. At the time, it did not seem like the biggest decision that affected our homeschooling greatly. To me, it seemed a tiny part of our homeschooling.

So that was how we got to CC. But why did we stay? That’s another story…to be continued in… Why We Stayed with Classical Conversations.

Other posts:

8 Reasons Why I Started Homeschooling

Why I Continue to Homeschool

Basics of Drawing: Fine Arts, Week 1 for Classical Conversations

Mirror Image Lion Drawing: Week Two, Classical Conversations






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Why I Continue to Homeschool

As I mentioned in 8 Reasons Why I Started Homeschooling, my choice to homeschool began as a temporary thing. I planned to do it for 2-3 years. But here I am, going into year 8. THIS was not the plan; how did I end up here???

I LOVE how often I hear that from other homeschooling parents: “I am not the type of person who ever saw themselves doing THIS!”

So why did I never send my kid to school for second or third grade as I’d originally planned?


Yes, I am a licensed teacher. But not early childhood. So I can’t say I kept them home because teaching that level of content is my favorite thing. Homechooling my kids for K-1 or K-2 was for THEM, because, quite frankly, those first few years are not my favorite to teach; they do not feature what really gets me jazzed about educating. Now that I’m teaching my third child to read, I can still tell you, it’s not my favorite thing to do. It is tedious and requires perseverance. But it IS what my kids needed me to do.

How did I get to the end of second grade for my oldest and decide to continue? I think that came down to four factors:

1. Going into third grade, reading was still a struggle in some ways for my son, though he’d been a quick study on any new information all along in school. Putting it all together was still challenging for this very bright boy. But he did not hate reading. I didn’t want to send him to school where he couldn’t continue to go at his own pace, then start to hate reading or school. (This is a foundation of his education and has ripple effects. It’s not a competition; the earliest to read doesn’t win in life. Except that sometimes, a school system can inadvertently make struggling or later readers give up or narrow their possibilities.)


2. I had just finished kindergarten with my second son, so even if I sent my oldest to a school, I’d still be home schooling the second one. Why not continue with both?


3. What we were doing was working. I recall my husband saying this as an affirmation to keep going another year.


a. Richness. There was such a richness to my elder son’s education. We could go deep, guided by his interests.


He was thriving in this education where I could integrate many of his subjects’ work with medieval knights, a love-affair he’d been in for years. Subjects that did not interest him, or that he struggled with, became much less painful if, say, that math word problem was about knights storming a castle rather than the number of frogs Jimmy traded for cookies.

And we could go deep–something kids with gifted tendencies need. They don’t need MORE worksheets or MORE ways to prove or record what they’ve learned–they need to learn more, and more in-depth. We got deeply into medieval history and explored the parts that interested him. No, this was not required material for a seven year old; it’s all bonus–but it is what he loved, what helped him thrive, and what motivated him to grow in his learning.


In the years when he couldn’t read extremely well or quickly, I could read aloud to him–adding up to combined hours each week, and he drew and drew as I read. He developed a vocabulary far beyond his years and grew in his understanding and perception of the world.

Now, in a classroom setting, I get the practicality: teach all kids to read early so they can need the teacher less, so they have the tool to learn on their own, independently, and get new information in a way that is not dependent on the teacher.

But in homeschooling, we have the luxury not to have to rely on the child’s reading ability and independence. I was available to do so many things, and those ways of feeding him knowledge were at a level that was deeper because it wasn’t constrained to the reading level typical of his peers in school nor his own reading level; what he absorbed was a higher level. I wasn’t thinking about this at a time, but I realize in retrospect that that’s what happened.

b. Also, speaking of his habit of drawing while I read to him, I could identify that as his main talent at the time. Since the age of three, that boy took to drawing in the most studious way. Books, for him, were not for reading; they were for studying the techniques of the illustrator.

Every trip to the library was his chance to pick medieval-themed books by the quality of illustration or its style. he literally spent 2-3 hours every afternoon. By the age of eight, he was drawing on a level his peers were not. Now, his ability has arrived at the level demonstrated below. This doesn’t happen overnight; this doesn’t happen because he was born with a gift. THIS happens because a boy can devote 2-3 hours a day to drawing, for 7 years.

If he had been in school all day those years, we’d not have had the freedom to invest the time we did in the things he absorbed so deeply these years.


My son’s progress came from hours and hours of time to devote to his craft, so at the age of 11/12, he could draw these from live models.

4. Classical methods became important. Along the way, I came to understand and value the Classical model of education. I began to see the fruit of a classical education and the three stages of learning (the trivium, as it is called): the grammar stage, dialectic stage and rhetoric stage. And then I realized, my kids could not reap its benefits if I sent them to any institution with modern education philosophies–public or private.

Yes, yes, I did say in my post, 8 Reasons Why I Started Homeschooling, that I didn’t even know what classical education was when I joined a homeschooling group centered around it (Classical Conversations). My only concern was that the group met my goals for socialization and support, and from what I could see, the Classical model was not detracting from my homechool goals.


But I did not remain so easily blase about the under-girding philosophy. When my child was 8, the next year featured a writing and grammar class for him, and I suddenly became hawk-eyed about what the philosophy would translate into–I was, after-all, a writing teacher! I had very strong opinions about methods and philosophies of writing instruction. I was VERY reserved about advancing my son along the CC program.


I went to visit the class and find out more about the curriculum. (Things I never did before.)

As I did my research, I not only found I could tolerate using this curriculum for my child, but also, that it was the answer to what I’d been searching for when I wrote my graduate thesis on writing instruction! The program featured elements I’d already identified as elements needed in modern writing instruction plus other things I hadn’t even discovered yet as answers to problems I’d found in trying to teach students in schools.

There was nowhere I could send him to get the kind of writing education I wanted him to have at home and supported by Classical Conversations.

So, we kept going with our homeschool classical education. The next year, he fell in love with Shakespeare and took the writing and grammar classes, unearthing a surprising facility in all aspects of writing. We reached a point suddenly where no longer was my concern that putting him in public school would be tough because “the later-reader” might not be on par or might begin disliking learning–but rather, that he’d now be bored in most subjects because he’d advanced so quickly. He was advanced in language arts, history, art, and on par with everything else.


My oldest in his furry Oberon, King of the Faeries, costume, in his second Shakespeare play.

As with his arrival at the age to beginning the writing instruction class, I was not blindly planning to send my son to the secondary level of the program. For years, I looked ahead to it vaguely, with holding my allegiance until I investigated it.

I got the opportunity to investigate it earlier than expected–when I was asked to lead the class years before my son was old enough for it.

Due to intensive investigating from the perspective of potentially taking on the responsibility to direct that level of classes, I really came out of that period of consideration with strong opinions. In short, I knew it was something I wanted for my son. And again, I knew he could not get those specific benefits of the classical method in any other way than by homeschooling.

And now, we’re entering our 8th year of homeschooling.

For all I’ve listed above (and possibly more factors I’m not aware of!), confirmed by prayer,  we continued homeschooling my oldest past the 2-3 year mark I’d started with as my goal and purpose. Now, I’ve got three children of school age whom I’m schooling.

2017 Dec 1-24 113

But the decision to homeschool or not isn’t about just academics . . .  What about things like socialization, values, friends, etc? And here is where I realize I need another post. Stay tuned for “Why I Continue to Homeschool, part 2.”

Other posts:

Why We Chose the Classical Conversations Homeschool Community

8 Reasons Why I Started Homeschooling

Ever Feel Like You’re the Least Favorite Teacher In Your Homeschool?

Books My Son Likes: Flora and Ulysses






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8 Reasons Why I Started Homeschooling

I’ve been thinking about this post for years.  I read others’ posts on this topic a lot. It’s always interesting. I am entering my eighth year of homeschooling; I now have three pupils, and each has always been homeschooled. But I didn’t foresee this being my life nine years ago.

I’d never planned to homeschool my kids, particularly in elementary years. I admit having the passing thought in graduate school, out of the depressive reality of some secondary level teachers I’d met in classes there. (There were such huge gaps in their education and understanding that I had wondered how I could put my kids in classes with teachers who were my peers!)

Also, because of my experience as a middle school teacher, and my own passage through those rough and turbulent years full of unnecessary drama, I’d considered I might want to homeschool my future children through that phase.) But years passed and we moved to other states. I had a couple babies. Their education was far from my mind for years.

fairy 14As I nursed babies and got through potty-training, here was my knowledge of homeschooling:

1) My mother had homeschooled my younger brother when I was in college and after because she pulled him out of school when it failed to accommodate his IEP (Individual Educational plan).

2) A minority of people at the church I attended in my late-20s homeschooled, and I noted that when I taught early elementary grades, some homeschooled children could not spell and seemed “behind.”

3) I had three college friends who had been homeschooled K-12 and they were amazingly well-prepared for college.

4) After moving to a new state and teaching at a charter school for someone’s maternity leave, a Jewish family from that school, after they withdrew their son, asked me to come and lead classes for a homeschool co-op they ran (multicultural, multi-religious) after I stopped teaching full-time. The students were an inquisitive, deep-thinking bunch who could confidently talk to anyone of any age, valuing them. They were also unusually tight-knit families who enjoyed spending time together, and I saw how siblings valued siblings.  These students and families impressed me and my husband who met some of them at Shabbat dinners.

5) Some friends were starting to choose homeschooling; I met people at parties who talked about co-ops.

Considering homeschooling really didn’t start until the year before my oldest could start kindergarten. It was really a conglomeration of ideas and events:

  1. All-Day kindergarten. This was cog one in the wheel that led me to want to homeschool. While kindergarten had been offered as either full- or half- day, the year my son would attend, the half-day option was discontinued in our district. A district newsletter cited studies that showed that students who were in school all day learned more than those who attended half day. Well, yes, but that’s not the same as it being best for the children. I had a child who needed sleep, thrived on naps, and was so young. A half-day separation was considerable. But a whole day was too much, too soon.
  2. The push to read in kindergarten. Newsletters from the district also showed that entwined with the all-day kindergarten was the goal to get kids reading in kindergarten.  But there is where my philosophy of education clashed with the school system’s.More instruction is not better. In fact, especially with a boy, too much time in school and too much reading instruction can hinder. This push clashed with everything I’d learned  about brain development and reading instruction.In his book Boys Adrift, Leondard SAx, Md, PhD talks of this. The part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres of the brain and needed for phonetic reading, called the corpus callosum, isn’t developed until boys are seven-years-old, on average. (For girls, the corpus callosum develops around the age of 5-6.)
    Reading instruction at earlier and earlier ages (a full year earlier than when I attended school), concerned me generally, but now specifically for my son’s sake.As a seventh grade language arts teacher, I saw the results of boys being pushed to read too early and in ways that caused long-term comprehension issues. Also, you could look at the students in class who were “trouble-makers” or “class clowns,” and what would you find? They were all struggling readers. And mostly boys.I wish our country we followed the examples of Northern European countries which delay reading instruction until the age of seven or eight, three countries of which are in the top 11 school systems in the world.

    Instead, others, whose opinions are holding sway, think we should follow the model of Asian countries at the top, and teach earlier and longer. But I believe that approach again overlooks brain development and the fact that Asian languages are graphic, not alphabetic as are European languages; the brain functions needed to read these two very different types of languages are different. The human brain, in both genders, develops visual centers earlier than it develops the multiple functions needed to read an alphabetic language.  It’s my conviction that the average kid in countries with pictoral languages can biologically be earlier readers; it’s developmental, not about intelligence.)

    So first, I’d decided that my boy would not attend kindergarten at 5 (a young 5 at that); we would not send him to school until the following year. But what if early-6 was too early too? Would waiting a year  be enough? Did I need to homeschool to ensure he would get appropriate instruction for his development?ELi first day school 001
    With more thinking, I wondered if I shouldn’t just make my child a school that followed the Scandinavian model and teach him to read when it was developmentally appropriate for him–not simply the age of five when he was old enough to walk into a classroom.


  3. Exceptionality. The suspicion that my children were not average pushed me a little more toward my above conviction. “Exceptionality” just means being anything but typical, a student in the midst of the bell-curve. My family history heavily features boys with ADHD. This is evident in the males on one side of my family, three generations up. And I was mom to two boys less than two years apart.Would one or both struggle with ADD? I remembered the struggles my brother had in elementary school. It was either school him at home in a way that could accommodate his attention span or watch him fail in the system.Granted, things had come a long way by the time my boys were born. Teachers were more educated on such issues. And yet, I’d recently taught in schools myself and knew that life would still be full of many communications with teachers and many experiences with my son to struggle, cry and feel a failure as he spent years trying to figure out how to manage himself. (Not to mention the pressure for ADD drugs.)And since the first years are the most crucial in forming a child’s impression of school, learning and his own intelligence, would it be best to start him in such a recipe for struggle?Or let him start in a way that gives him positive formative experiences–lets him experience the love of learning without frustration? To not have to feel himself the cause of exasperation to classmates and teachers? To learn about himself that he is able to learn instead of feeling he’s missing what his classmates are getting? To allow him to experience a learning model that is tailored to him instead of what works best to try to target approximately 25 students at a time?(I get efficiency and the need for it; I was a public educator taught to teach to the middle. I got it. All too well. And enough to know it didn’t work for every student, and enough to know it’s not what I wanted for my children.)

    My early impressions of my boys was that one looked to be struggling with attention issues and the other with gifted propensities. From watching my brother’s struggles, to working at a charter school to help remedy surprise problems of under-challenging gifted students, I was concerned with my boys being labelled once or even twice-exceptional. (I’d worked with those kids too–the gifted ones with learning disabilities or behavioral struggles. THAT is real and those unique struggles are very hard for a teacher or school system to meet.)



  4. Schedule. At the time, my husband traveled a lot. He might have to work the weekend out of town and then might finally be home on the middle of the week, say on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Some years, he traveled internationally, gone for three weeks straight, including weekends. When he came home, he might be off a few days in the middle of the workweek. If I sent my kids to school, they’d miss half the very few hours they could have with their father. In a month where a few days might be their interface, I wanted those days to be spent together as much as possible. Homeschooling would allow for that.
  5. Homework. Parents in the district told me it was typical for kids in K,  and grades 1 and 2 to have an hour or two of homework. Why would I want my child to have that much homework after a full day of school? When the after-school hours before bedtime are already merely four, why would I want them whittled down to only 2-3? I had children because I wanted to raise them, and enjoy them, not just race through each night to somehow accomplish a meal, baths and exhausted homework sessions.
  6. Optimal learning time.  My husband had even said, even if we send our kids to a school, we are responsible for their education. He fully expected we’d be teaching them things at home which the school would not, things we considered important. We suddenly realized, we might be spending hours a day doing homework with them and teaching them things the school did not. If we were going to have to do that at the end of the day (not an optimal time), why not instead do that during the day when the time is more optimal? Given the choice between trying to teach our children a few hours a night versus a few hours in the morning, while covering core subjects (because in early elementary, homeschooling takes about 1-3 hours total a day), the choice seemed very easy.
  7. Freedom to choose. At this point, I realized homeschooling would give me the freedom to choose what we spent that time on. Instead of spending hours doing homework assigned by another teacher, the time could be spent an assignments I deemed important, appropriate and important for my child. (Not ones that frustrated me or that I didn’t fully understand or thought was busy work.)
    img_3189I realized that if I homeschooled, I could choose the method of how to teach my child to read (and every other skill) and not be stuck with something I didn’t think best. I wasn’t constrained to parts of Common Core math that I likewise find developmentally out of line in the younger years.Likewise, the faith we were raising our children in wouldn’t be confined to how we taught them about the Bible during family devotions and at church; they could learn all subject and matters in life with the freedom to actively talk about how everything interfaced with God and our faith.And for that matter, we could do well what the chapter school for the gifted, at which I had worked, was trying to do: integrate all of learning rather than compartmentalize the subjects. It could all be fluid.8. Alterable. A decision for the start their education at home was not a final decision for their entire education. We could re-evaluate what was best for our boys every year.

And so, all of the above combined, we decided to homeschool our sons for 2-3 years each, perhaps K-1 or K-2, thinking we’d integrate them back into the local school after they had learned to read.

So that is how it all began; it wasn’t just one reason, but a collection of them.

Now, the reasons why I continued homeschooling are a bit different…that will be a future post. (Spoiler-alert, we didn’t put them into a school when they finished second grade… Why I Continue to Homeschool.)

If you homeschool, why did you start? If you’re considering, what reasons have you thinking that?

Other posts:

Why I Continue to Homeschool

Why We Chose the Classical Conversations Homeschool Community

Why We Stayed with Classical Conversations

Hershey vs. Knoebels

Pitching a Book to Nine Agents: Lessons Learned

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Hershey vs. Knoebels

I grew up going to Knoebels Amusement park, and then I moved to Central PA with Hershey very close by. We went to Hershey a few years, paid for by my husband’s work, but were turned off by the high price to go otherwise.

Until this past summer.

Partly as a gift from grandparents, we got season tickets for the whole family to go to Hershey. So now we can really compare the two. Our conclusion at the end of the summer surprised me.

Point by point, I’ll compare our experience at these two Pennsylvania amusement parks. My kids, all elementary aged, had a very clear preference.


In fact, we couldn’t even bribe them go with us to Hershey by the end of summer. They said NO to an amusement park! They said they’d rather stay home.

1.PRICE Comparison

Hershey: Every person has to pay admission to enter–whether they ride a lot or ride zero rides. (That was always a big negative to me. We usually have a non-rider in our family.)

Knoebels: No admission fee. You buy tickets or a hand stamp for anyone who wants to ride. Non-riding parents or grandparents who just want to enjoy watching don’t pay.

Hershey’s day price: Approximately $54, with some deals to be had for cheaper admission.

Knoebel’s day price: When our kids were small, we’d buy the tickets and spend between $20 and $40 a day. (Yes, that’s right: my entire family went for less than one person getting into Hershey for a single day.) Now our boys are older, and paying for big rides with tickets is not the best value, so we opt for hand stamps for all day riding. The cost is almost $49 for an all-day pass for one person, including wooden coasters; $44 a day for all rides minus wooden coasters. Difference: Knoebel’s offers a cheaper price for kids under 48 inches: $32 (including wooden coasters) and $26

Single-Day cost Winner: Knoebels. Our family can go to Knoebels for about $130, now that our boys are older and want hand stamps for coasters. (We’d not buy hand stamps for the adults; if we want a ride or two, we’d buy individual tickets per ride.) Hershey Park would cost, minimum, over $250.

Full disclosure: we had Hershey season passes–which is a good value because you can go unlimited times through Sept 30 for less than the cost of buying tickets for 3 days.

Season Pass Value winner: Hershey. I wish Knoebels had a season pass!

2. FOOD Comparison

Knoebels: Food choices include sit-down restaurants and counter-service places. Everything from pizza (by slice or pie) and (my favorite) perogies and tri-tators, and the newer international foods pavilion with the Mexican food. Cost ranged from a few dollars to $6-8.

Hershey: Counter service and cafeteria style eateries: pizza, burgers, hot dogs, etc., and a few chain restaurants: Moe’s, Chic-Fil-A, Nate’s Hot Dog stand. The typical meal was over $7-$12 cash, on the higher end if you wanted a side or drink.

                    My two favorite Hershey meals: Moe’s and ——-

Other difference: Knoebels allows outside food to be brought in, so we always packed lunch and ate dinner there, making Knoebel’s food cheaper in yet another way.

Food Variety: Knoebels’ wins for variety. Hershey has fewer options, though most are duplicated in multiple places within the park, wheres Knoebels has one location for each.

Quality of eating experience: Knoebels wins this easily. At Knoebel’s, you may wait in line sometimes for a few minutes. You may have to wait some minutes at a table while you food is being prepared. But at Hershey, even if you choose to eat at an off-time, say mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, you can stand in line for well over 20-30 minutes at least (We never even went on the busy weekends, so I don’t know how much worse it could get).

I was used to thinking that different members of the family could eat food from different places because, at Knoebels, you really could grab pizza for one kid, then swing by the Mexican place and get everyone else tacos. But after a few times of trying to get food from more than one place at Hershey led me to realize that it took an hour and a half. Do that twice in a visit and you feel like you spend half your day in line, waiting to eat. Even when I required we all get food at the same place, the typical 30 minute wait at most places was undesirable. THIS is a big reason my kids stopped wanting to go.

3. RIDES Comparison

Variety of rides: My kids preferred the many roller coasters at Hershey to the few big coaster offerings at Knoebels. Over-all, Knoebles has a lot of variety, but simply fewer big coasters.

Closed rides: Hershey was very poor in this respect. I get that they cut down on staff by closing a percentage of rides on weekdays when park volume is lower; but it means that the rides open are crowded. As we went to Hershey’s water park almost once a week, my kids found that certain attractions were simply never open on weekdays. It seemed that they perhaps opened them only one weekends when attendance was at peak. We could never go on weekends, so it’s kinda crazy, after a whole season, and paying for season passes, there were many rides we wanted to try that we never had opportunity to try!


Quality: Hershey’s Music Box Theater performances wowed my kids. We often saw shows more than once. (There was a show for summer and one for Christmas.)  Knoebels’ shows are simply not produced on that Disney-like scale.

Variety and frequency: Knoebles wins, hands-down. It has a LOT of entertainment. Multiple stages, indoor and outdoor, featuring oldies bands, magicians, comedians, puppeteers–all sorta of things! There are shows scheduled all day. At Knoebels, it’s rather geared toward the older crowd, and there are plenty of places to sit and rest. Also, there is a children’s theater where kids get to put on costumes and act parts as a play is narrated. (My kids have done that multiple years; it’s one of their favorite things.)


Knoebels: completely family friendly. And the kids love the playground! There are many trees, much less blacktop!




In sum, Knoebles remains my family’s favorite, despite fewer coasters. It wins in every other respect. My kids kept asking last summer when we would go–I said, no, we had Hershey season passes. They can’t wait to go to Knoebels this summer!

I think Hershey is only tolerable IF you have season passes. The amount of time waiting for food or popular rides means you can accomplish so little in a single day. Having a one-day pass would be frustrating–especially for those of us who’ve been to other parks with more favorable experiences. In fact, all this waiting is why my kids all eventually preferred not to go–before our season passes ran out. They were sick of waiting in line–for everything.

Do you have a different preference? Share!

Other posts:

Eating Grain Free/Sugar Free at Hershey Park

Being a Good Sport Parent

A Late Reader a Gifted Reader?

Books My Son Likes: Flora and Ulysses

Three Quick, Nutritious Go-To Breakfasts



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